Amy Nichols’ children like dogs.
They should, since they spent most of their first years in the office with Amy.
Nichols’ office isn’t the traditional type, though. As CEO and founder of Dogtopia, a dog daycare that began in Virginia in 2002 and has now grown to a franchised operation of 20 open stores and 15 in development, her office contains furry creatures of the barking type. Their friendly yaps could be heard in the background during our phone call, something that we laughed about. As mothers, you get used to incessant chatter – neither one of us paid it much attention.
Nichols began her company seven years ago, and so has seen the economy at its peak and, unfortunately, now at its ebb. In regards to the recession, Nichols says, “In some ways we have been insulated, and in some ways we have been hit harder.”
Stores that have been operational for a while are standing strong. They have a deep and loyal customer base that has continued to use Dogtopia’s services.
Newer stores, she says, “. . . are taking a little longer to get customers. (We are) doing what has worked but doing more of it.” This increase in marketing techniques includes going out into the community to meet with potential customers in an effort to teach them about Dogtopia’s services.
Nichols says she hasn’t considered cutting prices despite the recession. Instead, she has started offering more services for the money. “(Customers) are still spending the same amount of money but getting a free spa day. (It costs us) just a little more time and a little more effort.”
Another cost-cutting avenue explored by Nichols has been cutting business related expenses, such as real estate. “Some of the stores have had wiggle room with leases,” which means they are able to get a lower rent price from the owner. Nichols’ goal has been to get the new stores through the first six months or so, because she feels things will begin turning around soon.
And what is Nichols’ tip for starting a company in the recession?
Since she started her first business just a few months after September 11, 2001, many of her friends and family wondered if she could pull it off.
Nichols, however, felt she had prepared herself. She’d been researching the company for a year, had developed a strong business plan, had the support of her spouse, and had financing lined up. And so she proceeded.
If the time is right, says Nichols, do it.
If you know what it is you want to do and you are prepared, she adds, “I don’t think there is any reason to wait. Will it be easier in six months? Maybe, but maybe not.” In six months, she continues, you could be looking back and thinking about what you could have done.